Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Close Quarters


Story is the cramped room of dramatic narrative, the shared bed of insomniacs, the literary equivalent of sharing a bedroom wall with a loud snorer.  Life and story share the understanding that life is not fair, that there is any justice involved in deciding whether your airplane seat is next to an individual of enormous girth, or if the baby of the couple in back of you loses its lunch on you rather than them.

In recent years, story has become the loud neighborhood party, reaching its crescendo at three in the morning, so far as historical, speculative, and informative exposition are concerned.

If there were enough room for characters to relax, spread out, get comfortable within a dramatic landscape, then kindness, consideration, and civilized conversations would result, leading to an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century vision of accord, which was often boring enough then, without these stabilizing events being brought to the present.

Story thrives on close quarters, sprung sofas, chilly foyers, steamy atria, carpets with disappointing patterns, despicable room service, cranky concierges.  Thus tempers flare, best-laid schemes fizzle, and in sudden bursts of irrational impatience, hidden agendas are unintentionally revealed.  Serious individuals become unconsciously funny and pedants are given to self-satire.

Comfort zones and rest areas are nice concepts for inter- and intrastate highways.  If they appear in story, they signal the reader that the story is rushing toward being over.

You may well lead a reader to suspect some impending surprise or reversal, but you do even better, having raised such expectations, to present a surprise or set of expectations of—how shall you say this?—of surprising areas well beyond the readers’ expectations.

How do you accomplish such expectation and surprise?  You begin by bringing forth some venture that emerges as a surprise to you.  After all is said and done, you have an idea of what the characters suspect and you know what will surprise you if not them, and so you move ahead with plans to surprise yourself?

How do you surprise yourself?

You begin by signing a power of attorney by which authority you allot your characters and imagination for a specific length of time.  If your characters see you taking such steps, they may wish to hide, at which point you’ll have to arrange for plausible behavior that may be seen taking place at moments most inconvenient and fraught.
Story may reflect an atmosphere of convivial good cheer and brotherhood, all gone or on its way to hell.  Individuals within a story may attempt to demonstrate to you their appreciation for your recognition of their contribution.  Say nothing; allow them to nourish these feelings; story flourishes in direct proportion to the degree and intensity of story in progress.

Story serves to monitor the literary equivalents of fire alarms, paying close attention to anything that assures safety and accord.  If it is comfortable, you need to rough it up; if a thing seems likely in a positive sense, that thing, at best, can be a red herring, a signal that awful and awfully funny things await.

Funny things await; they sometimes overtake us and allow us to remain unaware they were there at all much less there and funny.  True sadness is the prospect and event of missing out on fun when it was there all the time.  The possibility of it being either love or insanity exists when no fun is present, yet you behave as though there were.

Characters who stand out in their jobs are those who believe this is not the time to be funny; you never have trouble portraying them or allowing them to rack up their own bills for wanton destruction.  In similar fashion, characters who crack up over something everyone around them considers serious are also worth hanging onto.  And watch out for characters who, up until now, seem to have got everything they’ve wanted without much in the way of effort.  They are headed for the big scene, the one of near Wagnerian consequence.

If there is ever any doubt that your characters are having too much fun, getting along too well, able to cope in convincing fashion with their environment, you need to bring them around fast,

The reader does not at anytime wish to see a sign in your text:  NO CHARACTERS WERE INJURED DURING THE WRITING OR SUBSEQUENT REVISIONS OF THIS STORY.

If you are to remain awake, neither do you.


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